Dressed to Drill

Berkley, Paperback, May 2023, ISBN: 9780593201350

Dressed to Drill

10th Fixer-Upper Mystery

Coming May 2nd

Contractor Shannon Hammer’s new project renovating an old church reveals some old sins when a body is found on the premises in the latest Fixer-Upper Mystery from the New York Times bestselling author Kate Carlisle.

While Shannon Hammer is thrilled to attend the premiere of the movie based on the latest book by her boyfriend, Mac, she can’t wait to trade her killer heels for work boots and start her next renovation project in Lighthouse Cove: a quaint Victorian church that has seen better days. And it will see them again—as an art museum—if Shannon, her talented crew, and her sister, Chloe, have anything to say about it.

However, on the first day of demolition, work comes to a screeching halt when they stumble upon the body of a beautiful young woman in one of the chapels. Who killed the assistant artistic director? Suspects crawl out of the woodwork as fast as Shannon can restore it. The church is hiding a century of secrets dating back to the days when smugglers wreaked havoc on the California coast. But it’s a more recent secret that leads to murder. Shannon and Mac will use every tool in their toolbox to nail down the truth before any more lives are sacrificed.

Excerpt

Hollywood, California

“Camera’s rolling, Chloe,” Paul the director shouted, then shot a glance at the crew. “Settle down, people.”

My sister, Chloe, stood out of camera range casually sipping the café latte that the production assistant had just handed her. “Be right there, Paul. Shannon, you ready?”

“Yes,” I said, a bit too loudly, and followed it with a light cough in a vain attempt to disguise the edge of terror in my voice. After all this time, I was still a little freaked out about being on camera. I didn’t know how Chloe could drink coffee. My stomach was jittery enough already.

But Chloe loved every anxious bit of it. She was the producer and star of Makeover Madness, the number one home improvement show on the Home Builders Network. Not only that, but she had a bestselling book on home décor that had sold zillions of copies and had at least a few dozen print runs by now. So she wasn’t just a TV superstar, but also a multimedia superstar. She was movie-star beautiful and apparently had a cast-iron stomach lining, unlike me.

My boyfriend Mac and I had traveled to Hollywood to attend the world premiere of the latest film based on his bestselling Jake Slater novels. When Chloe found out we were coming, she invited me to appear on her show and do some home improvement work with her. And when her fiancé, Police Chief Eric Jensen, realized we’d all be in Hollywood together, he knew he had to come along, just in case. He figured—rightly—that whenever Chloe and I got together, trouble seemed to show up unbidden.

It was the last day of filming at a spectacular ten-thousand-square-foot mid-century modern home in Trousdale Estates, a high-priced enclave in the hills north of Sunset Boulevard. Chloe and her crew had been renovating the house for several months. I had arrived a few days ago to help with the finishing touches on the updated kitchen and the master bathroom.

Once Chloe was finished filming these last few segments, she and her crew would take a six-week hiatus while her editing team worked to put five full shows together featuring this one house. Until then, Chloe was on vacation in Lighthouse Cove.

When the shows were completely edited, she would fly back to Hollywood to tour the home and describe the amazing work her crew and she had done to turn a faded old house into a sparkling new showcase home for the homeowners.

And that was the magic of television.

“I’ll stand over here,” Chloe said to Paul, pointing to the far end of the massive walk-in shower. Bob the cameraman joined them for a quick rundown of the scene we were about to do.

“Shannon and I will explain things as we go along,” Chloe said. “But Shannon will do the actual work, so keep the camera on her and maybe zoom in on the power drill if you can.”

“I can,” Bob said with a grin.

“Don’t forget,” Paul reminded her. “This is the last day we’ll be shooting at this house, so give us a quickie teaser about the next show at some point.”

“Got it,” Chloe said.

Meanwhile, my job, if I chose to accept it, was simply to attach a safety bar to the shower wall. This was something I’d done a hundred times, so it sounded like a piece of cake, right? But I was about to point out some very specific rules to follow in order not to damage the tile. And I would be doing that while running the power drill and looking and sounding professional the whole time. Like I said, piece of cake.

Chloe gave me a look. “You ready?”

I’d done Chloe’s show before, a couple times, and I’d even done a scene or two by myself when Chloe was otherwise engaged—or in jail, as I recall. But it had been a year or two since I’d worked on her film set so yeah, I was feeling a little shaky.

Never let ‘em see you sweat, my father used to say. Those were words to live by, especially in Hollywood. So I rolled my shoulders and stretched my neck around to loosen up, then smiled at Chloe. “Let’s do this.”

“Ready to roll,” she said to Paul and took her place at the end of the walk-in shower.

This shower space, by the way, was roughly the size of my house. I was exaggerating slightly. But seriously, there was at least enough space to play a quick game of basketball. Ten feet wide by sixteen feet long with a ceiling that went up twelve feet, it contained two rainfall shower heads plus six jet-spray nozzles on each side. I wasn’t even sure what those were for, but they were definitely deluxe. The teak bench at the far end was elegantly carved and wide enough to seat two people very comfortably.

While I was admiring the huge space, Paul counted us down and cued Chloe to start talking.

“We’ve just about finished remodeling the main bath in this gorgeous mid-century modern home,” she said to the camera. “The owners love bright colors so we’ve added this beautiful gold-hued mosaic tile to this massive walk-in shower.”

She gestured as she spoke. “But at the last minute the owners asked us to install a safety bar on the shower wall. They explained that they’re not getting any younger and wanted the security of having something to grab onto, just in case.”

She held up the newly purchased safety bar, still in its packaging and as she spoke, she walked toward me. The camera followed her. “It’s not a bad idea to have one of these sturdy bars installed in your own home bath or shower, no matter how old or young you are. We can all use something to hold onto when standing on a wet, slippery surface. Am I right?”

I could tell that the camera lens had widened to include me in the shot.

“You’re right, Sis,” I said with a smile.

She winked at the camera. “Now Shannon’s going to give you some step-by-step instructions to ensure that you install it correctly. And most importantly, that you don’t crack the tile.”

“The first thing you need to know,” I said, “Is that tile is a completely different animal than drywall or wood or even concrete. Mainly because, if you crack the tile, it’s not going to be an easy fix. Unlike drywall or other surfaces where you can just patch it and keep going, that section of tile would have to be replaced. And that’s a big pain in the neck.”

“I’ll say,” Chloe chimed in.

“So here’s how to get it right the first time.”

“What tools have you got there?” Chloe asked.

My tools were gathered at one end of the teak bench, and I lifted my power drill. “This is my trusty cordless power drill that’s been fully charged. And I’m changing my standard masonry drill bit to a diamond-tipped bit. I usually drill a small pilot hole using a one-eighth-inch bit and move up to the final size, which in this case will be a half-inch bit.”

I held up the thin cylindrical drill bit for the camera. “I don’t want you to be intimidated by the fact that it’s a diamond tip. They’re only slightly more expensive than a regular drill bit, but totally worth it because they’re the best way to safely drill through hard materials. They work well on mosaic glass, ceramic, porcelain tiles, marble, granite, quartz—whatever.”

As I attached the diamond bit to the drill, Chloe said, “I see you’ve got a level with you, too.”

“It’s always a good idea to have a level nearby.” I held up my twenty-four-inch level. “We want this safety bar to be installed perfectly level.”

Chloe grinned. “Yes, we do.”

I smiled back at her, then continued. “In addition, according to ADA requirements, grab bars should be mounted thirty-three to thirty-six inches above the shower floor, measured at the entry.”

“That’s pretty technical,” Chloe commented.

I grinned. “Yeah, sorry about that. Now, the most secure way to anchor a safety bar is to find a stud. And the best way to do that is with one of these handy-dandy stud finders.” I held up my own bright yellow stud finder. “You can locate studs by sliding this gadget along the wall above the tile and—wait for it.” As the stud finder passed over a stud, the gadget beeped loudly and turned bright red.

“Pretty easy, right?” I said. “If you don’t have a stud finder, or you have difficulty locating the studs, we have some additional tips on our website for various situations and solutions.”

Chloe jumped in. “And in case you haven’t heard me mention it a hundred times, our website is MakeoverMadnessTV.com.” She looked at me. “So now we’re going to mount the safety bar. What happens first?”

“Okay,” I said. “After we’ve carefully measured where we’ll place our mounting brackets, I’ve marked a small piece of painter’s tape and placed it over the spots I want to drill into. That’ll add one more layer of protection, because I really don’t want the drill to slip or skate across the surface and crack this beautiful tile.”

Chloe grinned into the camera. “That’s smart.”

“So now we’re ready to drill. Place the end of the drill bit on the mark on your tape. You’ll want to start out slowly and keep the drill bit as steady and straight as possible. Then you can gradually increase the speed.” I turned on the drill and demonstrated.

It took about ten seconds before the drill made it through the tile, the cement backer board, and the stud beneath. Then I turned off the power and set the drill down on the table. “It takes a few extra seconds to get through all those layers.”

“I promise this gets easier each time you do it,” Chloe said, smiling at the camera. “Once again, you can find detailed instructions for all our projects on our website. And when we come back, we’ll show you the newly mounted safety bar as well as the rest of our mid-century modern master bathroom remodel.”

There was silence for five seconds, then Paul shouted, “We’re clear. That’s lunch, everybody. Crew, we want you back on set in thirty-five minutes.”

“Yo,” someone shouted.

“Yes, boss,” someone else said.

“Thanks, Paul,” Chloe said, and grabbed my arm. “Let’s take a break.”

We walked down the hall and ran into two gorgeous men, namely my boyfriend, Mac Sullivan, and Chloe’s fiancé, Police Chief Eric Jensen.

“Hey, did you catch any of the show?” Chloe asked.

“We did,” Eric said. “You were both brilliant.”

“And did you get to see Jason at all?”

“Yeah, I ended going over to his place for coffee. He’s good. They’ve got three kids now.” Eric shook his head. “It was sort of shock, but he’s a great dad.”

“That’s nice to know,” Chloe said.

“It is.” Eric had told us all about his buddy Jason. The two men had joined the army together, and when they got out, they both joined the LAPD. Now Jason was a detective, and Eric was Lighthouse Cove’s chief of police. “I was just telling Mac that Jason has some ideas about Homefront that we might find helpful. I’ll set up a conference call next week and we can chat about it.”

“Great,” I said. Homefront was the veterans’ village we had built on five acres in Lighthouse Cove. My crew and I had constructed fifty tiny homes, along with a community center that was now thriving, with all sorts of amenities for veterans. Eric and Mac, along with two of Mac’s marine pals, had arranged all the backing and funding over the last few years. All of us considered it one of our proudest accomplishments.

I gazed up at Mac. “So how was your meeting?”

“Very productive,” he said with a grin. “I’ll probably go to New York for a few days later this month for more meetings.”

He pulled me close and gave me a quick kiss. “Eric’s right, your segment was great. And you look beautiful.”

“Thank you. Chloe was my makeup and wardrobe consultant.”

“Contractor Barbie, at your service,” Chloe said with a smart salute.

I frowned at Mac. “Could you tell I was nervous?”

“A little,” Mac admitted, “but you relaxed after a few seconds.”

“I’m not sure why she still gets nervous,” Chloe said. “She’s a natural.”

Mac nodded. “I agree.”

The four of us walked into the spacious kitchen where dozens of sandwiches and five different bowls of salads were set up buffet style. There was a big tub of ice with all sorts of soft drinks and several trays of desserts.

“This is nice,” I said.

Chloe nodded. “We like to keep the crew fed and happy so they don’t wander off.”

I shook my head. “Why would anyone wander away from all this?”

“Yeah, that would be dumb,” she agreed. She grabbed a sandwich, then turned as more of the crew walked in. “Hey, Buck. You did a great job lighting that space.”

I turned to look at Chloe’s lighting director. He was tall, tan, and broad-shouldered, with sandy blonde hair, amazing blue eyes, and a beautiful smile. He was a few years younger than us, maybe in his late twenties, and he was the epitome of a California surfer, whether he surfed or not.

Buck grinned. “Thanks, Chloe. It’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to light a shower stall.”

With a smile, Chloe said, “You’ve got to admit it was a pretty deluxe stall. But still, it wasn’t easy. You made us look fabulous.”

“That wasn’t hard,” Buck said, then winced. “Sorry. Was that too much sucking up?”

She laughed. “I’m really going to miss you. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be wonderful to have Reggie back on the crew, but you’ve been such a great help. And you’ve got a fun sense of humor and a good work ethic, which I appreciate.”

“Thanks,” he said with a nod. “If you ever need an extra lighting tech again, please call me.” He grabbed a sandwich.

“How is Reggie?” I asked. Reggie was Chloe’s regular lighting director, but he’d been involved in a car accident two months ago and had broken his leg badly.

Bob the camera guy reached for a can of cola. “He’s been in physical therapy for six weeks.”

Chloe nodded as she nibbled on a potato chip. “I talked to him last week. He sounds a lot better.”

“He improves more and more every day,” Bob said. “Should be good to go in another week or two.”

“I hope so,” Chloe said. “With luck, he’ll be able to come back to work when we start on the next house.”

Bob nodded. “He will.”

“Hey, Buck,” Chloe said, turning back to her temporary lighting tech. “Seriously, if you ever need a referral, let me know. I’ll be glad to rave about you.”

He grinned. “I’d really appreciate it, Chloe.”

“It’s the truth. Your work is stellar.”

Something occurred to me, and I stared at Chloe.

She brushed her chin. “What? Do I have mustard on my face?”

Mac was watching me. “You’ve got something on your mind. What is it?”

I looked at him. “Remember I told you about the job we’re starting on the Lighthouse Church?”

“Of course,” he said.

“That’s a gorgeous old building,” Chloe said.

“It’s amazing,” I said.

Chloe sipped her bottle of water. “You’re turning it into some kind of museum, right?”

“An art museum,” I said. “But it’s so dark in there, and there’s so many nooks and crannies all throughout the place, I’m concerned. I’ve got a couple of great electricians on my crew, but I need someone who really knows lighting. Because, you know, it’s tricky when you’re trying to illuminate artwork in all those odd spaces.”

“Don’t I know it.” Chloe’s eyes narrowed. ”Hmm. Buck, you studied theater, right? And … what else did you study in school?”

He grinned. “You didn’t memorize my resume?”

Chloe laughed “Sorry.”

He sobered up. “I went to UCLA. I have a master’s degree in electrical engineering and a bachelor’s in theater lighting and cinematography.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s specific.”

He smiled. “I grew up on a horse ranch, which has nothing to do with anything, except that my mom wanted me to do more with my life than ride horses. So the electrical engineering degree is for her. But my dad was a stuntman for television and movies, and I used to visit him on the job all the time. That’s how I got the showbiz bug. So the lighting and cinematography is for him.”

“That’s really nice,” I said. “I’m impressed.”

Chloe gave me a long look. “Well?”

“Well.” I turned to Buck. “Okay, I need a lighting guy to start in two weeks. But you’d have to relocate to Lighthouse Cove, at least temporarily. That’s in Northern California. North of Mendocino.” I frowned. “It’s a small town and it’s kind of a long way to go for a temporary job although we’ll probably need you for a full year, maybe longer, but…”

“I know Lighthouse Cove,” Buck said. “I have an aunt who lives there.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. “That’s amazing.”

“I’ll say,” Buck said. “Are you really offering me a job?”

“We can talk about salary and benefits later, but yeah, I’m offering you a job.”

“Holy smokes.” He shook his head in happy shock. “I’ll take it.”

Visit the Secret Room to read the rest of Chapter 1!

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© Kate Carlisle

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